MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Finding itself in a back-and-forth battle on the road, Marshall suffered a last-seconds loss to Middle Tennessee, 51-49, in its first-ever trip to Floyd Stadium on Thursday night.
With the loss, the Thundering Herd dropped to 4-3 overall on the year and lost its first Conference USA game of the year, now sitting with a 2-1 conference record. The Blue Raiders improved to 4-4 on the season and are now 2-2 in league play.
The Blue Raiders got on the board first on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Logan Kilgore to Kyle Griswould, putting Middle Tennessee ahead 7-0, with 11:03 remaining in the first quarter.
After going three-and-out on the first drive of the night, the Herd answered with a score of its own with 8:47 to play in the first. A 39-yard touchdown toss from junior Rakeem Cato (Miami, Fla.) to redshirt junior Jazz King (Duncan, S.C.) tied the score at 7.
The grab by King extended Cato’s streak of 25 straight games with a touchdown pass, just one game shy of the Marshall record of 26, set by Chad Pennington in the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
A costly combination of a turnover and a personal foul on a Marshall punt return gave the Blue Raiders possession at the Marshall 17-yard line, but the Herd defense did not buckle as it intercepted a pass in the end zone to regain possession in a tie ballgame. The pick helped Marshall record its 11th of the season.
Unable to capitalize on the interception, the Marshall special teams unit took the field and was bested by the Middle Tennessee unit as an unblocked man blocked the Herd’s punt and was recovered for a touchdown as the Blue Raiders to a 14-7 lead with 55:13 remaining in the first.
Marshall did not wait long to respond and retie the game as a ten play, 80-yard drive was capped off with a one-yard touchdown run from Essray Taliafero (Washington, D.C.) to make it a 14-14 game with 14:47 left until half time.
With 7:12 remaining in the second half, senior Brandon Sparrow (Bedford, Va.) forced a Blue Raiders fumble that was recovered by Marshall to give the Herd possession at the Middle Tennessee 37-yard line. Marshall made sure to capitalize as Hoskins reeled in a six-yard touchdown pass from Cato to put the Herd on top 21-14 with 3:57 until the half to give Marshall its first lead of the game.
Middle Tennessee would rebound on its home field before the half as Kilgore found Christian Collis in the left side of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown hookup to tie the game at 21 with 27 seconds to play until halftime.
Back out for the second half, Middle Tennessee put together a touchdown drive to open the second half just 2:23 into the third quarter. The drive gave the Blue Raiders two-straight touchdown drives, putting them out front 28-21.
A five-play drive that took merely 1:23 off of the clock allowed Marshall to retie the game, this time at 28 with 11:14 to play in the third.
The back-and-forth scoring continued in the third quarter as Middle Tennessee regained the lead on a one-yard quarterback keeper up the middle to go up 35-28 with 9:37 remaining in the third quarter.
A 37-yard field goal at the 3:54 mark of the third quarter helped the Blue Raiders attain the largest lead of the game and hold a 38-28 advantage over the Herd.
Marshall showed fight while facing a double-digit deficit as the Herd returned the following kickoff 81 yards to give the offense a short field. Cato found a wide open Tommy Shuler (Miami, Fla.) in the right side of the end zone to cut the Blue Raiders lead to three. With 2:39 left in the third, the Floyd Stadium scoreboard read 38-35 in favor of Middle Tennessee.
Looking to keep the visitors in the rear-view mirror, the Blue Raiders scored on a six-yard touchdown pass to make it 45-35 with 13:17 remaining in the contest.
A one-yard rushing score courtesy of redshirt sophomore Kevin Grooms (Hollywood, Fla.) brought Marshall back within three and with 8:17 remaining in the game, the Blue Raiders led 45-42.
Poised for their second road comeback in as many games, the Herd faced a short field courtesy of a punt return to midfield. Marshall took the ball 44 yards in eight plays and into the end zone on a two-yard scamper from Taliaferro to put his squad up 49-45 with just 2:29 remaining in the game.
With the pressure now on Middle Tennessee, the Blue Raiders delivered with a 13 play drive that went 79 yards and ended with a nine-yard touchdown pass from Kilgore to Tavarres Jefferson as the clock read zero, handing Marshall a 51-49 road defeat at the buzzer.
In a game that saw four ties and seven lead changes, Middle Tennessee got the last word as the Blue Raiders posted 585 total yards to 448 from the Marshall offense. 235 of those 448 yards came through the air for the Herd with the remaining 213 coming on the ground.
With the Thursday night win, Middle Tennessee closed the gap on the series history as Marshall now leads 2-1, with the Herd having lost at Floyd Stadium in its first attempt.
Marshall will return home for the first time in nearly a month as the Herd will host Southern Miss on Saturday, Nov. 2 at 12 p.m. The C-USA contest will be televised on CBS Sports Network.